Panel 4: the stag hunt 1
This tells of how Zeus determined to send misfortune on the daughters of Ares and how Artemis granted them the protection of chastity. The affliction of the gods follows the princess Penthesilea on the day that Ares appears to her in the form of a magnificent stag.
The Scythian princes arrived in the late summer on chariots to take barley and animals from the hard-labouring Sauromatae. The men of the D?nu armed themselves with spears and prepared a defence at the periphery of their lands so that their villages would be protected. Without archery or ponies, they were easily surrounded and killed but the invaders also lost dear brothers and in revenge burned fields and captured the women and children.
Athene counselled against their liberation because the land that fed the women had been ravaged. The sons of Ares independently determined not to allow male children to survive lest they someday demand compensation and revenge. The remaining prisoners could not be exchanged or returned since there was no one to pay ransom. So what could they do in such a situation? Tradition recognized slaves and concubines as property; consequently a portion of the invaders, mostly those with land, wishing to avoid conflict in their households, chose to return to their wives with animals, grain and young servants, while those who chose to take concubines continued with their spoils across the D?nu and beyond the mountains where they would build their winter camp.
Hippolyte greatly displeased the son of Zeus when she instructed her sisters to avenge their torture and rape. In response to Ares’ complaint but in consideration of the wisdom of Athene on matters of war, Zeus spared the Amazons but declared that the queen and her descendants would be accountable for this contempt of the gods. The daughter of Leto intervened and vowed to protect her daughters from the malediction as long as they remained chaste. Ares, immediately recognizing the tenability of such a condition, agreed to her compromise.
Queen Hippolyte had one child, a son who might have been a man or youth, unequalled for his beauty, whom she called Tanaïs. His eyes were twin stars, his hands and forearms were carved from marble, as Ares might desire. His flowing hair was as glorious as Apollo’s in the sunlight and his cheeks were youthful and smooth. His neck was of ivory and his mouth was dreaming in sweetness. His complexion was fair and blushing as a rose in a snowdrift. Many a maid sought to gain his love but he worshiped only the appliances of war and the hunt and because of his mood, spirit and pride, none gained his favour. Tanaïs worshipped Artemis and was a fierce warrior but he would never know mortal love.
On one summer’s day Aphrodite spied Tanaïs as he drove, in his delusive nets, some timid stags wandering in the pathless woods. She loved him and followed him, with soft and stealthy tread. The closer she approached the hotter she burned, as when the flames flare upward from a torch. Oh, how she longed to make her passion known, to plead in soft entreaty, to implore his love but Tanaïs saw only the deer. He did not return affection to the goddess and she, having never encountered such a mortal, spoke in anger, “If he should love deny, deny him what he loves!” and with these words Tanaïs suddenly felt unnatural urges for his mother, Hippolyte. He could no longer move from where he was, for to do so would reveal a morbid affection for the woman who had borne him. With nowhere to turn, Tanaïs gazed upon the flowing river and said loudly, “In vain, in vain!” and breathed a sad “farewell!” And so Hippolyte’s beloved child, Tanaïs, died tragically in the waters of the D?nu.
The subsequent queen, Lysippe, came from a distant land and was a daughter of Ares through her mother, Euandre. Lysippe abandoned her sons, trusting only daughters to be faithful to Artemis. Lysippe begat Deianeira who took the name Hippolyte; Deianeira begat Androdaira through Ares. Androdaira the queen begat Phillipis and her sister Hippolyte, mother to Antiope who was taken to Athens by King Theseus where she bore a son, Hippolytus. Hippolyte, sister to Phillipis, was also mother to Molpadia who led the siege of Athens as well as Orithya and Melanippe who were both great queens of Themiskyra. Melanippe through her liaison with Ares was the mother of Otrere. Queen Otrere begat Lysippe, Melanippe, Hippolyte and Penthesilea.
Penthesilea was of smaller physical stature than her sisters. She had sharp features, a pointed jaw, dark eyebrows, a prominent but slightly rounded nose and well defined eyes that changed from dark blue to green depending on the light. Her slightly-built but agile body made her dependent on all of her senses when confronted.
She had excellent eyesight, a keen sense of smell, and acute hearing, which helped her greatly for she would be alerted to the slightest distant movement before anyone else in her hunting party. She had endurance that allowed her to wait patiently for hours to hear the sound of a deer moving along its path and then she could track the animal to exhaustion, never losing her breath. At other times, she could locate her prey by its scent.
It was for these reasons that she had earned the respect of all in Themiskyra. The experienced women knew that her abilities would make her a great warrior as she evolved into that role but at this moment she was in her seventeenth year, a chaste daughter of Artemis and a sly huntress of large game.
In the early summer, a creek ran far beyond the south end of the land that her household cultivated for barley. There, where the soil was too poor for tilling and before the forest began on the hills in the distance, there was a small, sometimes dry, stream. While hunting alone along that riverbed, surrounded by laurels and a rocky terrain, Penthesilea spotted a stag on the opposite side. As she crept through the brush on the edge of the ridge, the stag disappeared when she glanced in the opposite direction for a moment. Suddenly she turned the other way and saw the great animal looking directly at her. She slowly dropped to the ground, hoping he would simply ignore her and continue feeding.
It was then that the princess heard a grunting and growling sound directly in front of her through the brushes. Still lying on her stomach, she peered through the brush to see a badger. She rolled to her side, pulling an arrow from the quiver, hoping that she was not going to need it. At the same time she did not want to lose the stag. As she shuffled backwards the badger advanced. Each direction she moved, the animal followed. She no longer cared about the deer that she could still see through the brush. Suddenly the badger, apparently bored, waddled off grunting and growling. By the time the challenge was over the stag had disappeared.
When Penthesilea returned to that place on another occasion, the deer seemed to be content with where he was and displayed no intention of crossing the creek. For five days the maid watched as he went to the stream to drink and then disappear. Penthesilea was ready to spend the amount of time that this animal demanded. She began to learn his habits. She made long hard stalks on the stag only to watch him vanish. No wonder he had grown so large! He knew his escape routes and was well aware of his surroundings. It began to get frustrating watching him for hours only to see him vanish again once she had positioned herself to strike. The huntress now had established a goal and was determined to hunt for him and to prevail.
Even when she was young Penthesilea had been told that there were very few places in their realm that had not been explored by hunters. She was certain that this open place where the creek gently turned through stones and dry clay had never been considered for large game. It seemed to be barren at first glance. When the maid returned to the city this time, she told her sister Hippolyte that if she could keep a secret then she would be taken to the place where Penthesilea had been seeing the stag. After swearing Hippolyte to secrecy they decided against using hounds, hunting like true Amazons, with their natural given possessions and ivory tipped spears. It was going to be difficult but the young princesses were up for the challenge.
The morning of the hunt they woke early at a time when dawn allowed barely enough light to see past the tip of the lances. Penthesilea really did not know where to start looking for the stag on this day because he was not where she had previously seen him. After many hours of searching they saw neither deer nor rabbit. Hunting aimlessly, they found themselves walking to a different place where they had on other occasions spotted worthy game. It was not until midday that they saw the first deer track. It was in some mud close to a small creek that flowed to the river Thermodon.
They followed the marks in the clay for about 500 paces before they saw a group of animals bedded in grass. Penthesilea knew that they did not have long, because the wind was blowing in the direction of their backs. The princess caught a glimpse of a deer that at first she thought must still be in velvet because she could not see the clear antlers of the stag that she had been tracking. It was at that moment that the animals caught the scent of the young Amazons.
Once they started to move, the maids realised that it was the stag they had been hunting. This time Penthesilea had found him with seven other deer. They could not get close enough and then the whole group began to move. Penthesilea ran out and around in an attempt to manoeuvre them. She did separate a part of the herd, the part the stag was not with. She had no idea where he might have gone, so they started back to Themiskyra.
The next evening Penthesilea found herself on the same vantage point that she had been to many times in the past. Spreading apart the bushes, she was hoping to see the stag. After so much effort spent watching and stalking this deer, she realized that he was now a short distance away from her. Penthesilea suddenly saw that this was a beautiful animal, the most symmetrical stag she had ever seen, fit even for Artemis.
Not wanting to scare him away, she was reluctant to attempt a lunge that was not perfect. The sisters moved towards the deer silently through the brush. They stalked, ever so slowly creeping, to get as close as possible to the animal. As they came near to their game, they waited for a chance to strike, but the stag did not move. Abruptly Hippolyte decided that she was going to take the stag by throwing the spear, contrary to all that she had learned. Penthesilea silently detested her and whispered to herself that the lance would never pierce the hide, yet Hippolyte was determined to throw. Penthesilea braced herself, knowing that this would not end well.
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